Burger King’s plan to outsource advertising to Google Home goes horribly wrong

Here’s a checklist of questions that may prove useful to companies that wish to use the latest technology in their advertising campaigns:

  1. Is it forgettable?
  2. Is it going to annoy the bejesus out of your customers?
  3. Is it open to abuse from internet pranksters?

Ideally, you want “no” to be the answer to every point. And to be clear, a score of 33% shouldn’t pass this test, as Burger King found in their new advert for the Whopper burger.

In the 15-second ad, an employee of Burger King explains that a quarter of a minute isn’t enough time to rattle through all the great things in the Whopper burger, so he outsources it to Google Home devices around the country by saying “Okay Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

The idea was presumably that people would find it cute that their virtual assistant had volunteered to work in Burger King’s advertising department, overlooking how little people care for this kind of thing. Even if they do want their digital assistant to become a corporate shill, in all likelihood they don’t want it to be yammering away at the same time as the television.

Okay: so far in the three-point plan, it clears the memorable bar, but fails the annoyance test. Now, how open was it to internet pranksters?

Wide open. If you ask Google Home to tell you about something, it starts reading the summary about it from Wikipedia. Wikipedia: you know, that online encyclopedia that anyone can edit?

Yesterday, after the ad aired, the Whopper Wikipedia page went through a suitably whopping 52 edits, of which roughly half were rolling back vandalism from pranksters. What kind of vandalism? Well, for a time the page reported that the Whopper was “made from 100% rat and toenail clippings”. One edit said it caused cancer, while another editor simply slipped cyanide into the list of actual ingredients. One editor chimed in to report the burger as inferior to the Big Mac, which is probably better than it being a poisonous carcinogen composed of toenail clippings in the greater scheme of things.

Possibly irked that people are using Google Home for advertising (you’d never catch Google doing that), the command now seems to have been disabled on the device, making it just look like the employee in the video is really bad at ideas. That shouldn’t necessarily prevent him from making the jump to an imminent vacancy in Burger King’s advertising department, of course.

This isn’t the first time that virtual assistants have caused problems by eavesdropping on things they weren’t supposed to hear. Earlier this year, a local news report included a sentence that triggered hundreds of Amazon Echo devices to drop everything and order dollhouses across San Diego. Still, before you pull the plug, it’s worth remembering that if you’re ever on trial for murder, your Echo might just vouch for you.

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